By Jeff Maisey
Local blues legend Bobby Black Hat Walters shows no signs of slowing down. If anything, 2023 was one of his most prolific.
In addition to two sold-out concert events at Ferguson Center for the Arts, the singer/songwriter/harmonica player will squeeze one more performances out of ’23 with his New Year’s Eve Blues Spectacular at Williamsburg’s Kimball Theatre.
Appearing with Bobby and his full band are Adrian Duke Projek featuring Teresa Richmnd, Rob White, In Layman Terms, and Ruth Wyand.
In advance of the show, I caught up with Bobby Black Hat Walters to discuss his 2023.
VEER: 2023 has been a banner year for you and Akeylah. Can you share your thoughts on your father/daughter accomplishments?
Bobby: Watching my daughter as she makes the transition from emerging artist to established entertainer has been phenomenal. She’s had singing in her soul from a very young age and it’s fun watching her do her thing. Her creativity and productivity are quite remarkable. My role has been to advise her from the sidelines, sharing my knowledge and experience to hopefully ease the pain of paying dues. We often share samples of our respective projects to seek constructive, honest, and sometimes brutal feedback. And yes, we love to share the stage together. My wife, children, and now grandchildren have performed and/or recorded with me. My son, Rob Martin, is an accomplished drummer, specializing in reggae. He was the drummer on the award-winning song, “HRBT Blues.”
VEER: You have been very engaged in the community this year. What have been the highlights for you?
Bobby: Several highlights come to mind:
- I’ve enjoyed mentoring several young musicians primarily through giving them opportunities to perform with my band before larger audiences.
- I also produced an original song “You May Not Know Us Now” for “The Vagabonds” a talented group of young musicians, ages 13-16.
- This was my third year as emcee for the Newport News Walk to End Alzheimer’s.
- This was my second year serving as a Commissioner on the Newport News Arts Commission.
- My band performed with the Peninsula Youth Orchestra at the American Theatre.
- My band performed with Symphonicity during their Symphony by the Sea Series.
- The Bobby BlackHat Band presented “Blues in the Schools” for 250 students at Rappahannock Middle School.
- I recruited several new musical acts for the Virginia Commission for the Arts, Touring Artist Roster, including: The Jason Cale Band, Roberta Lea, Brasswind, and Good Shot Judy.
- I released a booklet titled, ‘Bobby BlackHat-isms…Insights, Ideas, and Random Thoughts’: a collection of motivational, inspirational, and sometimes comical concepts with an emphasis on musicians but applicable, adaptable, and relevant to other pursuits, and life in general.
VEER: You worked with Ferguson Center to present a two-performance music series featuring your band (Blues), Akeylah Simone (Neo Soul, R&B, Pop, Hip Hop, Blues), and Jae Sinnett (Jazz). Both performances sold out in advance. What were your thoughts on programming these shows highlighting three distinctive styles of music?
Bobby: While attending a reception at the Torggler Fine Arts Center, I met Bruce Bronstein, the Ferguson Center’s Executive Director, and casually shared my vision of hosting a multi-genre performance at Ferguson. At a follow-on meeting, Bruce shared his vision of the Ferguson Center engaging a wider segment of our community. Bruce then asked me to curate a series of performances to showcase both emerging and established talent we have in Hampton Roads and surrounding areas. We may also include regional and national acts as well. As a marketing strategy, we both agreed that name recognition would be beneficial, and the Bobby BlackHat Music Series was born.
My intent in highlighting three distinctive styles of music is to intrigue and entice a curious audience. I want to entertain the audience with new and exciting performances by artists with whom they may not be familiar. All acts must be able to perform a 45-60 minute set that includes a minimum of 50% original music. The next Bobby BlackHat Music Series performance will be on March 24. And remember…You Never Know What’s Gonna Happen at a Bobby BlackHat Show!
VEER: New Year’s Eve. When did this become a big/popular event for you?
Bobby: It started with First Night Williamsburg back in 2008. When First Night was discontinued in 2017, I decided to produce my own New Year’s Eve event. The response was fantastic, and we have sold out every Blues Spectacular since then. It’s a family friendly event that runs 6:30pm-10pm. This time slot was chosen intentionally so that attendees could get home before the more rambunctious New Year’s revelry starts.
VEER: What can you share about this year’s programming?
Bobby: I’m excited about our 2023 Blues Spectacular lineup. Kicking off the night will be Ruth Wyand who has achieved a level of diversity that has exceeded the expectations of audiences around the world. Her guitar virtuosity is demonstrated by dynamic fingerpicking, bottleneck slide and a warm alto voice. Wyand has toured extensively throughout the United States, Britain, New Zealand, Kuwait, and France.
Next are hometown favorites, In Layman Terms, featuring Cole and Logan Layman. In Layman Terms is a nationally acclaimed act that has performed all over the United States as a sibling duo, and a full band. Their unique and diverse sound ranges from gritty, foot-stomping acoustic work to that of an electrified big band with blues, funk, and a hint of modern flair. Their compelling, content-filled original music has had airplay worldwide, has ranked nationally on the charts, and has had rave reviews.
A special treat will be the The Adrian Duke Projek featuring the soulful stylings of female vocalist Theresa Richmond. Combining critically acclaimed musicianship with a vast repertoire of music The Adrian Duke Projek has pleased crowds from Atlanta to Baltimore and everywhere in between. This group will be representing the River City Blues Society at the 2024 International Blues Challenge in Memphis.
To close out the show, blues guitarist, Rob White, will be a special guest with the Bobby BlackHat Band to lay down amazing vocals and tantalizing guitar work. And remember…You Never Know What’s Gonna Happen at a Bobby BlackHat Show!
VEER: How would you rate the blues scene (quality of bands, performance spaces, and audience in support) in Hampton Roads in 2023?
Bobby: The Blues scene isn’t as active as it once had been but it’s still alive and kicking. Not many venues can be called blues venues exclusively anymore. That’s understandable since they are trying to appeal to as wide a clientele as possible. After the Natchel’ Blues Network shut down the Natchyo Grandma’s Blues Network jumped in to fill the void. There are several local open mic’s that welcome Blues artists.
I’ve seen a shift from traditional and contemporary blues towards Blues-Rock. That said, when that I-IV-V Blues groove kicks in during a soul stirring, gut grinding traditional Blues tune I see both young and mature audiences respond with energy and passion.
In regard to performance spaces, I will say that I’m disappointed that some “music” venues have not invested in making their rooms music-friendly in regard to acoustics and sound.
Fortunately, I’m starting to see a slight surge in interest from venues and organizations looking to include Blues in their programming. Everybody loves the Blues; they just don’t know it yet.
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Bobby Black Hat New Year’s Eve Blues Spectacular